Dr. White and colleagues publish findings of therapy program to improve emotion regulation in teens and young adults with ASD
Difficulty managing emotions effectively, called poor emotion regulation (ER), is common in ASD and can lead to explosive behavior, depression, anxiety, and aggression. Effective treatments for these issues are a major unmet need in ASD that leads to poor mental health, social problems, interferes with success in school, and can result in the use of multiple medications or crisis situations. There are no evidence-based treatments to improve ER in ASD. Treatment options are especially lacking for adolescents and young adults. To address this need, we developed an intervention to reduce poor ER called the Emotion Awareness and Skills Enhancement (EASE) Program.
EASE is a 16-week individual therapy program for verbal adolescents and young adults with ASD without intellectual disability, designed to improve ER capacity. EASE emphasizes awareness of one’s own emotional responses as a key skill to then manage intense negative emotions, which is taught through mindful awareness practices. Then the therapist works with the client to teach different strategies for emotion management.
This paper describes the first study of EASE, including how the manual was developed. Twenty adolescents and their parents took part in a pilot trial, and findings supported that the treatment was acceptable to the participants and the clinicians. Questionnaire responses also showed a significant improvement in ER problems and related symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and irritability. Overall, results suggest that the EASE program may be effective for adolescents and young adults with ASD, but a larger study should be completed to have more definitive evidence.